July 1, 2008

Middle School Redistricting: Kate Griffin to Close, Middle Schools Reconfigured to Grades 6-8

By Jennifer Jacob, The Meridian Star, Miss.

Jul. 1--Ever since the Meridian Public School District announced that it will be opening a new ninth grade building at Meridian High School for the 2009-2010 school year, many people have been wondering the same thing. With ninth grade currently being taught at two different junior high schools, which one of them is going to close?

The answer, and one that many will not be surprised by, is that Kate Griffin Junior High School, in which eighth and ninth grades are currently taught, will close after the 2008-2009 school year.

Under the proposed middle school reconfiguration plan, the district's other junior high school, Northwest, will become a middle school for grades six through eight. Magnolia and Carver Middle Schools, currently schools for grades six through seven, will also become sixth through eighth grade schools. Ninth grade for the entire Meridian Public School District will take place at Meridian High School. All of this, pending approval by the justice department and federal courts, will begin in school year 2009-2010.

New middle school districts have been drawn and were approved by the school board at a special meeting Monday. Under the redistricting, all but one of the seven elementary schools in the district will remain with a "feeder" school. That is to say, all of the students in one elementary school district will be in the same middle school district as well. The exception is West End Elementary, which will send some of its students to Carver Middle School, and others to Northwest. The West End school district will divide along 20th street, with students residing North of 20th street going on to Northwest for their middle school education, and students residing South of 20th street going on to attend Carver Middle School.

Parkview, Witherspoon, and Crestwood Elementary Schools will be in the same district as Magnolia Middle School; Poplar Springs and West Hills Elementary Schools will be within the Northwest Middle School district; and the Oakland Heights Elementary School district will be within the district of Carver Middle School.

Once the redistricting takes place, Carver and Magnolia Middle Schools are projected to have black enrollment above 90 percent, while black enrollment at Northwest is projected to be below 80 percent.

The reason for the racial disparity between Northwest and the other two schools, said demographer Jerome McKibben, who made the redistricting recommendation, is an uneven distribution of population within the district. A large majority of the white school age children in the Meridian Public School District live in the Northern part of the city, and attempting to divide them evenly between the three middle schools would cause significant transportation and other logistical problems.

McKibben, who has drawn redistricting maps for school districts all over the country, tried to meet specific goals in planning for the new districts in Meridian.

The school district asked him to attempt to maintain diversity within the schools, leave "feeder" schools in tact, keep the schools "as much like neighborhood schools as possible," and to avoid letting transportation become an issue.

In addition, McKibben said he aimed to keep the schools from running over capacity and to draw boundaries that would work for at least 10 years.

McKibben said that, if his projections are correct, the schools should operate at below 90 percent capacity, and that, even if there is a severe decrease in school-age population over the next 10 years, the boundaries are drawn to "spread the pain evenly over all three areas."

The two potential problems that McKibben pointed out with a map were the splitting of the West End district into two different middle school districts and the transportation of students living in a part of the Northwest Middle School district whose homes are actually physically closer to Magnolia Middle School.

The school board unanimously approved the redistricting proposal which, pending approval from the federal courts, will go into effect at the beginning of the 2009-2010 school year. School Board President Fred Wile said that he did not foresee any problems that might cause the courts to deny the redistricting proposal.

The worst case scenario, according to School Board Attorney John Compton, would be that the courts do deny the proposal, and that Kate Griffin and Northwest Junior High Schools operate as eighth grade only schools during the 2009-2010 school year while a new proposal is made.

As for Kate Griffin, Wile said that the school was closed because of its age. Part of the reason for the construction of the ninth grade at Meridian High School, he said, was to allow Kate Griffin to close. He said the goal of the school board is to find another use for the building, adding that they have had talks with Meridian Mayor John Robert Smith and the city's Planning Commission on that subject, but have yet to reach any conclusion.


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Copyright (c) 2008, The Meridian Star, Miss.

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